One village, two murders in one week: witchcraft and madness in Khmer country

In the same village two unrelated murders were committed in the same week. A trip to the Khmer countryside where superstitions are still very much alive and where the mad do not receive all the assistance they need

Deadly Witch Hunt

Two individuals, ages 15 and 24, were charged Monday night with aggravated violence against a 51-year-old man who died of his injuries. They accused him of witchcraft.

Kok Doung village chief Kem Ham said the two individuals are brothers-in-law. They were neighbors of the victim, whom he described as a kind man who did odd jobs, such as collecting cassava, cleaning and plucking ducks and chickens to eat.

The attack happened on April 15. They beat their victim until the victim lost consciousness. Chhoeung, that’s his name, suffered gallbladder and liver injuries. He died two days after the attack.

Chhoeung’s family took him to a local doctor at 2 a.m. on April 16 and the doctor eventually sent him home, saying his injuries were too serious to treat.

According to Ham, the attackers believed that Chhoeung, the victim, was a witch doctor. The murders linked to Witchcraft accusations are not uncommon in rural Cambodia.

“It was a baseless accusation,” Ham said. “They came to attack him while he was doing his job. There’s no evidence that he did any dark magic or incantations or other sorcery-related things, but in fact he was just a normal person. How could they accuse him of being a wizard? »

District police chief Yuon Cham said the two attackers tried to pretend Chhoeung was ill and that their attack should not have killed the 51-year-old. According to him, the two men attacked Chhoeung because they thought he had put a curse on their relative.

Indeed, the mother and the mother-in-law [des deux beaux-frères] were often sick, so they went to see a traditional healer who told them they were under a spell.

According to her child, at the time of the attack, Chhoeung was just skinning a toad

A madman kills his aunt with an ax

Provincial investigating judge Veng Mouy Ky has charged Maing Samleng, 30, with murder, and faces between 10 and 15 years in prison if convicted. He is accused of murdering his aunt last week. The local authorities claim that he suffers from a psychiatric history, but no expert report has been filed in court to prove this.

Ham, the Kok Doung village chief, said Samleng attacked his aunt, Meach Kamsoth, with an ax on April 13. She was taken to hospital with serious injuries and died in hospital. Samleng was arrested an hour later.

“When he’s drunk, it’s like he’s possessed. Yes, he has [des problèmes de santé mentale]“, said the district police chief.

According to Ham, Samleng’s mental health issues were known within the commune. It started after Samleng, a garbage collector, was attacked by individuals during a village fete in 2019.

Ham said that Samleng “was lucky to have survived.“He started to develop mental health issues after one of the men who attacked him was released.

“After the incident, his wife left him to return to his home province taking their child away. Samleng then became a person without a purpose”adds Ham.

Samleng’s behavior changed after the incident and according to the village chief he was taking medication for mental health issues.

“On the 13th, we don’t know why he slashed his aunt with an axe,” said Ham. “We are sad that we could not prevent this from happening.”

Am Sam Ath, a Licadho official, told VODenglish that when there is no prior psychiatric expertise to clarify the situation, the police must send [le cas] to the court. When there is doubt, like here, his family can ask the court to send the individual for an examination by a psychiatrist to determine whether he really has a mental illness or not.”

Chheu Se, head of the Kok Doung health center, said he also knew Samleng had mental health issues.

He added that the district health center was only able to provide some treatment for mental illnesses, but he said that the commune will in future be able to provide more mental health services, without . further clarification.

Another man from the same village was sometimes chained to a post by his family to prevent him from attacking other people – a method still used in reaction to violent people suffering from mental problemsthe rural regions of Cambodia, because they are not medically supported.

The villagers discussed holding a village-wide rite to ward off evil and bring back good fortune.

Article translated with the kind permission of to allow the French-speaking readership to have access to it.

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One village, two murders in one week: witchcraft and madness in Khmer country

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